Hints & Tips for First timers...
The Orlando area of Florida hosts more holiday visitors than any other place on Earth. Whether on your first vacation, or a return visit, you can be assured there's something new you haven't seen. Development of the major theme parks - Disney (4 parks), Universal (2 parks), Sea World (now 3 parks) and Busch Gardens to name but a few - continues with the arrival (at Universal) of "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" and the proposed building of Legoland. A major new shopping mall, 'The Mall at Millenia' has recently opened to rival The Florida Mall, The Mercado & Premium outlets (formally Belz).
The Florida climate is described as 'sub-tropical' which means in layman's terms a temperate, slightly humid atmosphere all year round, being cooler during the spring / autumn / winter months (between 70 - 80°f) but usually dry. Hotter in the summer months (between 80 - 100°f) with frequent - usually daily - brief but heavy showers often with lightning. The showers tend to be of short duration & are warm ! Easily avoided by nipping into the nearest shop.....(there's always a shop !) All the theme parks sell suitably logo-encrusted cheap plastic ponchos which work well & are highly recommended for use on any water-rides you may encounter !
Navigation around the area can
be quite difficult at first until you get used to the American way of road
signs... If a sign gives you the choice of North or South, be aware that it
relates to the general direction the road takes, even though kinks can really
send the road east-west locally ! Try to drive one lane out from the right
if on a multi-lane road as the 'inside' lane will often turn into a right-turn
only at junctions. Never change lanes over the solid white lines approaching
traffic lights. Speed limits are similar to UK, 70 on the Interstates between
towns but lower if there are intersections, watch for white rectangular signs!
Multi-lane highways allow overtaking in any lane & there can be direct left turns on some - the 'fast lane' may not be....
The 192 has a series of "Mile Markers" - purple diamond signs which run from near the I27 in the west starting at MM4 (near our villa), through MM7 at Disney World Drive to MM15 in Kissimmee old town. They are very useful guides & are mentioned frequently. The 192, being Disney's "front door", has received some major tidying in the last few years & is now a 3 lane road boasting elegant street lighting, many palm trees & multiple bus shelters with seating & drinking fountains. There is a 'bus stop at the junction of Lindfields Boulevard & the 192 (route 55).
First time out,
collect as many different coupon or discount booklets as you can find
(everywhere) & use them ! You really will save money if you do....
Anywhere you go usually has a matching discount offer of some sort. There's
loads of info. about theme parks available, we found 'unofficial' guides better
than 'official' ones, they tend to be less biased & present good & bad
Park tickets are expensive & worth shopping around for. There are some reliable sources in this website, loads more if you search the web for 'Theme Park tickets'. Check out the major parks on the 'net as they frequently have offers, take credit-cards & you can print 'E-tickets' on your printer which work directly at the turnstiles - no extra queuing! The Disney Store (UK) has been known to beat every other source for Disney passes but doesn't offer the full range of available options. PLEASE don't fall for the 'cheap tickets' offers unless you really enjoy timeshare presentations ! (We got caught once, never again...) Always take a pen when park visiting, you need to note where you've parked (really) - there's space on your ticket. Most car parks are gigantic & supply shuttle trams to the park turnstiles, Universal have moving walkways (like Heathrow). Either way, you'll need to find your car eventually...
We first visited
when our girls were 7 & 11 - which worked pretty well, they both had
sufficient stamina to survive. Some of the more extreme rides - the ones kids
get attracted to like magnets - exclude those under 52" tall (for safety
reasons), they tend to be fairly relaxed on this, but if you want to avoid grief
or switching(*), you may be well advised to let 'em grow a little.....
* Switching... Park rides allow one, then the other carer to ride without re-queuing & meet up at the ride exit using 'secret passages' between entrance & exit.
Be warned that nearly every ride has it's associated 'Souvenir Shoppe' engineered so you have to exit the ride through it ! Visit the Character Warehouse in Premium Outlets (top of International Drive) for savings on Disney themed T's & stuff - the in-park shops tend to be expensive. When you visit a park, be prepared for a very long day, typically from 8am 'till 10pm (or later) You'll want to stay for the fireworks - 'Illuminations' at Epcot, 'Wishes' at the Magic Kingdom or 'Fantasmic' at Disney's Hollywood Studios (Really not to be missed). Use the strollers (pushchairs) available & take reseal-able mineral water bottles (freeze them overnight). All the parks have chilled water fountains, refill your bottles as necessary.... Keep drinking !! Some guide books rubbish the fast-food available in the parks. Although slightly more expensive than 'outside', we found the choice more than adequate with fresh fruit available as well as the usual fries, the speed of delivery excellent & the cleanliness of everything outstanding. All the parks take pride in appearance & are immaculate !
Unless you're on a really tight schedule, don't visit a park first day in & try to arrange a relaxing day between park visits. Any of the water parks are fairly 'low energy', the levels of supervision mean you can let kids off the leash & they aren't going to drown. Downtown Disney's Marketplace with the Rainforest Cafe is interesting. You could consider a day 'at home', relaxing by the pool with an evening BBQ - there's one provided....